- The guidelines are expected to enable Africa to create a more secure Internet infrastructure and are set to change the way African Union States approach cyber security preparedness.
- Intermittent connectivity poses a unique threat towards Africa’s digital ecosystem.
- Many commercial and industrial systems in Africa have embedded software that is out-of-date and/ or unpatched, and are, therefore, especially vulnerable.
- Physical attacks on the infrastructure also pose a threat. The attacks could be intentional and motivated by financial reasons, political activism, or even terrorism.
- Organizations do not report security incidents. This makes it difficult to know the magnitude of the attacks in Africa and to find solutions.
What are the Internet Security Guidelines for Africa?
On the 30th of May, 2017, The Internet Society and the African Union Commission today unveiled a new set of Internet Infrastructure Security Guidelines for Africa during the Africa Internet Summit, which took place in Nairobi from 30 May- 2 June.
The guidelines are expected to enable Africa to create a more secure Internet infrastructure and are set to change the way African Union States approach cyber security preparedness.
The Scope of the Internet Security Guidelines:
The Internet Security Guidelines seem to focus primarily on Internet Infrastructure Security rather than network security and conventional information assurance practices. It is essential to note that these areas are highly related and tend to overlap regularly.
Notably, the Guidelines make little mention of the physical security of any elements necessary to the development of apt internet infrastructure. This is due to the presence of developed standards offering best-practice guidance regarding the physical security of physical assets enabling access to the Internet.
The recommendations highlight a number of aspects of physical security for assets such as cables and other physical infrastructures, but the topic is not exhaustively covered therein.
The Guidelines also extensively discuss the need to build the infrastructural capacity of African countries, as the studies undertaken by the Internet Society in the drafting of the Guidelines, highlighted an immense gap in the African Digital Market.
The Guidelines thus focus on building at regional, national and institutional or organizational levels. They seek to develop human resources through education and training, cooperation at all levels, capacity building in information sharing, etc.
Notable Points from the Panel Discussion:
Intermittent Connectivity as a Unique issue
The Panelists interviewed during the development of the guidelines, highlighted that intermittent connectivity poses a unique threat towards Africa’s digital ecosystem.
At a fundamental level, the nature of cyber threats in Africa is largely similar to elsewhere in the world. However, intermittent connectivity is a serious problem, which distinguishes Africa from much of the rest of the world.
Intermittent connectivity is a result of a number of factors such as insufficient resources in terms of bandwidth, the cost of Internet connectivity, frequent power outages and blackouts, a lack of effective maintenance and scheduled patching, a lack of trained workers, natural factors (such as inclement weather), and human factors (fraud, sabotage, theft, fuel shortage, etc.). Intermittent connectivity limits the capability of stakeholders to collaborate to prepare for, or to respond to, an attack.
Many commercial and industrial systems in Africa have embedded software that is out-of-date and/ or unpatched, and are, therefore, especially vulnerable.
For example, many financial systems and public sector networks are dependent on machines running software which is no longer supported by its developers, and for which security upgrades are no longer available.
The mobile industry also raises similar concerns. In some instances, mobile devices are being sold with out-of-date or unpatched software.
Alongside out-of-date or unsupported software, an inability or unwillingness to upgrade or patch servers and applications on a regular basis makes systems vulnerable to attack.
Physical damage to Critical Internet Infrastructure:
Physical attacks on the infrastructure also pose a threat. The attacks could be intentional and motivated by financial reasons, political activism, or even terrorism.
Physical damage to infrastructure could also be unintentional, due to factors such as a lack of proper and regular maintenance on the part of the operators, or negligence due to poor operational and management practices.
Fiber cuts were cited as an example of physical attacks. It may be difficult to totally avoid this problem, but solutions to identify and locate cuts would help mitigate the impact. Information sharing among operators is critical in this regard.
Need for Transparency and Information Sharing Mechanisms:
Another problem identified was the lack of transparency regarding cyberattacks. Some organizations do not report security incidents. This makes it difficult to know the magnitude of the attacks in Africa and to find solutions.
Therefore, a trusted ecosystem should be fostered so that everyone (including operators and end users) can learn from cyber incidents. Established practices on responsible disclosure and vulnerability disclosure coordination allow for the provision of information in ways that will not expose infrastructure to further risk, are also important
National Internet Infrastructure Safety Principles:
The Guidelines highlight that policy-makers should use four essential principles as a guide. These essential principles are awareness, responsibility, cooperation, and fundamental rights and Internet properties.
- Awareness: An understanding of security risks, along with how they can impact others in the Internet infrastructure ecosystem. A preparedness to recognize the risk and manage it, and evaluate the impact of actions on oneself and others in the African Internet infrastructure ecosystem.
- Responsibility: Taking responsibility for the management of security risks. Due to the fundamental nature of the Internet, one should conside1r the potential impacts of one’s actions, or inactions, on other stakeholders before taking action.
- Cooperation: Engage in an ongoing cyber security dialogue that includes actors across borders to effectively counter new and persisting threats. The security of critical Internet infrastructure cannot be achieved alone. There is a need for cooperation and collective responsibility among all stakeholders, not just the government and a selected number of stakeholders.
- Fundamental Rights and Internet Properties: Actions to manage security risks must adhere to fundamental rights, be transparent, and not infringe upon the fundamental properties of the Internet: voluntary collaboration, open standards, reusable technological building blocks, integrity, permission-free innovation, and global reach.
An effective approach to Internet infrastructure security must not only employ these principles, but empower all other stakeholders to use them. The approach should support conditions for collaborative security and an ongoing security dialogue, encourage transparency, and empower others to safeguard the fundamental properties of the Internet. The approach should improve access and contribute to a more open Internet ecosystem, free of censorship and respectful of privacy.
Regional Recommendations from the Guidelines:
As the Internet is designed as a collection of networks, responsibility for security is shared. As such, every participant should be conscious that their own security also depends on the security of neighbouring networks and that their security decisions impact others. There is a collective responsibility to implement best practices for Internet security. We recommend establishing a coordination structure at the continental level and engaging in new capacity building initiatives.
The Guidelines thus recommended the following policies which should be adopted regionally:
- The formation of an Africa-Wide Cyber Security Collaboration and Coordination Committee (ACS3C).
- States should facilitate Information Exchange through a National Multistakeholder Structure
- States should establish and strengthen National Level Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs)
- Governments should promote the use of IXPs and increased cooperation and connectivity between different African networks. IXPs can limit the scope of cyberattacks.
- ISPs and network operators have a responsibility to coordinate and collaborate with one another, their customer organizations, and other stakeholders.
African consumers deserve to enjoy safer technology
The proliferation of the Internet and cloud-based services within the Africa has had the effect of exponentially increasing the number of Africans online.
In certain nations like Kenya, the internet penetration rate is a whopping 85.3%, where about 37.7m (of about 40m) Kenyans are online and engage in digital transactions on a daily basis. The latter trend is followed similarly in Nigeria, where about 80% of the nation’s citizens have a presence online. This is similarly attributed to the growth of social media in Africa and its direct relationship with internet usage within the region.
In order for the continued use of the Internet within our Continent to remain sustainable, it is essential for governments to legislate and necessitate the adoption of essential security practices.
A prime example of this would be the adoption of secure protocols which should be used in products and services supporting Internet infrastructure.
For instance, TLS (transport layer security) is a cryptographic protocol that should be employed to protect web services. TLS encrypts data exchanged in an HTTP transaction and cryptographically identifies one or more of the parties engaged in a transaction. Privacy and identity are fundamental elements of secure Internet infrastructure.
Governments need to necessitate this as a minimum standard for the provision of digital services for their citizens, to guarantee the safety of their privacy and consumer rights.
Internet Exchange Points, a positive eventuality for African netizens.
Internet Exchange Points should also be aptly implemented to facilitate cross-border internet connectivity, as it enhances regional connectivity even further. Governments should promote the use of IXPs and increased cooperation and connectivity between different African networks.
IXPs limit the scope of cyberattacks and improve the total internet security resilience of these areas. With the growth of regionalism and the eventual growth of bodies such as COMESA and the East African Community (EAC), Internet Exchange Points could be a unifying factor which could lead to the enjoyment of cross-border internet services.